Faculty & Staff Profiles
Jessica Soler doesn’t shy away from change. She thrives on it.
“I find change exciting. I like to try different things.”
This year, change meant switching classrooms for two months this semester, moving from serving as a teaching assistant in Caroline Petrow’s first-grade classroom to take over as lead teacher in Rosemary Nye’s first-grade class while Nye was on sabbatical.
“Oh, it’s been so fun! … I get to come in here and try it for two months, and I have found it really, really enjoyable to get to know the kids. It was something different and new and I like doing new things. I’ve found it really fun and I hope they have, too.”
Soler grew up in Tokyo, traveled the world each summer with her parents and three younger sisters; competed in gymnastics in Japan; played volleyball during college in Pennsylvania; married and moved to Puerto Rico for several years; coached volleyball from middle school to travel teams; and has taught fourth grade, first grade, kindergarten, preschool and special education.
The different places and experiences have given her life a richness of experience.
“When you live in another country, you definitely see things through a different lens. I did third through eighth grade in Tokyo, then we moved back [to the US]. I finished high school and my family moved back to Tokyo for another five years while I was in college. I would go home for Christmas and summer breaks in Tokyo. Most of my summer jobs were in Tokyo, working for my old gymnastics coach. You see things through a different lens. If you are living in another country, you are the minority.”
A family connection introduced Soler to Durham Academy in 1994. Her sister, Anna Kemp ’97, joined DA in 10th grade when DuPont transferred their father from his job in Japan to the Research Triangle Park. Like her older sister, Kemp was a volleyball player, and Soler, who had just graduated from Albright College, helped out with DA summer volleyball practices. Soler coached DA’s Middle School team for a year before taking a teaching job in Wake County. She later did a stint as DA’s varsity coach, and currently coaches one of the Middle School teams.
Soler chose to be a stay-at-home mom while her children were young, but she began to feel the pull of the classroom after her daughter came to DA in kindergarten. Soler joined the DA faculty in 2005 as a fourth-grade teaching assistant, and for the last seven years, she has been a first-grade teaching assistant.
Coaching and teaching seem to come naturally to Soler. She got her introduction to both during her family’s years in Japan. There, she attended third through eighth grade at an international Catholic girls’ school that drew students from more than 50 countries.
“I was a gymnast and a volleyball player and I had really wonderful coaches. I was the kid they would get to help some of the younger players on the team with volleyball and gymnastics. I would go to my coaches’ camps in the summer in Tokyo, was sort of a junior helper. They would get me to explain things.”
She also helped her high school volleyball coach in Pennsylvania. “He told me he thought I had a knack for explaining things, and he suggested I consider being a teacher and a coach, and I did! I’ve kept in contact with my gymnastics coach from elementary school and middle school and my high school volleyball coach. They were not just good coaches, they were good teachers.”
Soler’s gymnastics coach continues to influence her. “His motto was ‘I can. If I say I can, then I know I can do it.’ He was positive and uplifting in everything he did in every area. … The way he taught kids to be positive, to believe in themselves, was something that carried through to everything he did, it was a lifestyle, it was the way he was. That encouraged me to be that kind of teacher because it doesn’t really matter in the end if you can do a back handspring or you can’t, if you’re really good at math or you’re not. If you believe you can do it, you learn how to work hard and go for goals.”
Soler embraces the challenges that come with teaching.
“I think kids are like little puzzles that you have to try to figure out, and they are all different. I like that it’s always changing, that it’s not exactly the same. Every class you get is a little bit different and you’ve got to change what you do a little bit to match what they are bringing to you. I like that because I get bored if I do the same thing all the time, and I know they do too.
“I like that education is always changing and there’s something new to try, something new that you can do. It’s fun and exciting to try it. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I think the older I get, the easier it is to let go and try stuff. If it works, that’s great. And if it doesn’t, then the kids see you handle something that’s not going well or they see you handle a mistake. … Teachers, if we are always learning, we’re always changing, we stay fresh and it’s exciting and fun.”
Soler says being a mom is her most important job, but that will change as her children get older. “I have a lot on my list of things I want to do. I’ve crossed some of them off. I’ve run two marathons and I’d really like to run another one, like to train more. I love photography. When I was in high school that was my other love. You just don’t have time to do everything, you have to choose and I chose teacher.”
Soler’s daughter, Sylvia, is in 10th grade now and her son, Josh, is a seventh-grader. Soler and her husband, Rolo, who is from Puerto Rico, live in Chapel Hill and that is home for them now. “I think it’s been a great place to raise kids, and our kids are happy here at Durham Academy.”
She believes the DA community is key. “It’s a positive, uplifting community. There are some people that I’ve met here that I would never forget. They are positive, uplifting, encouraging. Some of them, it’s because they taught my children and they left such an impact on their lives that they will never forget them. … I think that is my favorite part. We have individuals who are amazing, positive and uplifting. They just really uplift the people around them and make everybody feel good and make everybody want to be better. I like to be around people like that. I enjoy coming to work.”